The Au Pair Experience

Casa graduate Lacey Gallagher describes her memorable experience nannying abroad as an Au Pair in Verona, Italy in 2016.

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Fiona Gmeiner, Reporter

For people seeking life lessons and adventure before venturing into college or the “real world,” becoming an Au Pair is an intriguing option. Au Pairs are essentially live-in nannies who work for a family in a foreign country in exchange for room and board. Though this opportunity has diminished with COVID-19, future graduates may plan on engaging in this unique experience after the pandemic. Lacey Gallagher, a former student who graduated in 2016 and is currently studying to go into law school, reflected on her Au Pair experience: a summer trip to Verona, Italy, which she embarked on a mere four days after graduation.

Gallagher has been travelling the world since she was eighteen months old, and her love of exploring drew her into the position. The Au Pair system provides a cost-efficient mode of travel: one essentially pays for their plane ticket and then gets free room and board, and some pocket money, in exchange for helping to take care of their host family’s kids. Gallagher took care of three kids, five days a week, for three months during the summer between her senior year of high school and freshman year of college. 

Today, there are online websites for Au Pairs to virtually meet with potential families — essentially professional dating apps with the purpose of finding a temporary job or worker. One can customize parts of their profile such as the length of the trip, the countries they’d be interested in working in, the number of kids they would take care of, and the days spent working. After matching with a family, the Au Pair and family can ask each other questions and eventually Zoom or Skype call to meet further before deciding whether they are a good fit. Gallagher recommends deciding between a more rural or central area early on, since this can affect how broad your immersion is into the country or surrounding area. Most of all, she emphasized the importance of enjoying working with kids and having experience in that area before deciding to be an Au Pair, as the majority of one’s time will be spent working with the family and one’s compatibility with this lifestyle will affect their experience.

Gallagher had taken care of her five year old niece often during high school, so she had gained a lot of valuable experience of how to work with kids. However, she noted that working as an Au Pair was a very different experience from taking care of her niece.

“I learned what it was like to not have a bond with the children because you’re only there for a short amount of time and a lot of the time the kids get an Au Pair every summer, so they have an idea of who you are that doesn’t create a long term bond. The youngest kid I worked with called me ‘babysitter’ the whole time I was there, which just goes to show how routine this arrangement was for them. That’s great, but I also felt like he didn’t respect me because of that,” said Gallagher.

Language wasn’t a huge issue for her, as the mother she worked with spoke English as well as Italian. Gallagher stressed having at least one adult in the house that speaks your first language as a prerequisite, as communicating clearly with the family is important and facing conflicts in a foreign culture that one will need help with is a given. The children she worked with spoke limited English, so when they didn’t understand her she was able to use Google Translate and the new words as a learning opportunity for them.

“The idea of an Au Pair is to have someone in the home that speaks English. It’s a cultural and language exchange,” said Gallagher.

She recommends seizing the opportunity to become an Au Pair while it’s there, as it’s much harder to live in Europe for three months as an adult and full time employee than as a high schooler. It is also a chance to grow as an individual, and to gain a deeper understanding of an area than you would get on a two week Europe vacation. Gallagher recognizes the block on travel caused by the coronavirus, but she hopes that when it’s safe to go out and travel again people go for it.

Junior Elizabeth Stiveson plans on doing just that. She has wanted to travel to France after high school ever since freshman year, enrolling in French so she will have an easier time communicating with locals. She is optimistic about her post-graduation goal despite the ongoing pandemic.

“I’m hopeful that people will get the vaccine soon and eventually things will open up. There’s over a year until I graduate so I think there’s a good chance the world will be safer by then, but if not I’d want to study abroad in France in college because I really want to travel,” said Stiveson.

For Gallagher, the opportunity to travel and be an Au Pair was valuable and priceless, and she feels there weren’t any real downsides to the experience.

“Everything that occured happened exactly as it was supposed to and taught me something. Taking a risk like this teaches you things, which is really the point of life. Looking back on who I was in high school, who I was after being an Au Pair, and who I am now, I think it was a much needed push into being a more sociable person. In high school I wouldn’t necessarily mingle with people I wasn’t friends with, but when you’re in a country by yourself you’re forced to reach out because you can’t be with yourself forever,” said Gallagher.

The experiences Gallagher gained as an Au Pair helped her grow as an individual and have even been a point of interest in many job interviews. It was an opportunity that will stick with her forever, and one students will hopefully be able to consider in upcoming years.